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Nations rode the Lightning - 100%

Xyrth, June 8th, 2021
Written based on this version: 1997, CD, High Vaultage Records (Reissue, Remastered)

The NWOBHM phenomenon is sometimes difficult to explain to non-metalheads or casual music listeners. To most of them, it will sound “more of the same”, referring to classic heavy metal, a thought and phrase that clearly denotes their lack of ability or interest in discerning between similar metal aesthetics, and also a disdain for learning. For those willing to become initiates with the curiosity to understand what it meant (and still means) to metal, my usual and simple approach is to describe it as a bridge between the past, the original creators of 70s hard rock/heavy metal music (Sabbath, Priest, Purple, Zep, Heep…) and the bright (and dark) future to come, with bands paying homage to the first metal sounds while simultaneously trying to surpass its heaviness and aggression, an ambition that ended up spawning many of metal's genres. Perhaps there's no clearer example of this than Diamond Head's debut, Lightning to the Nations, an album whose importance and impact looms much larger than the rest of Diamond Head's discography or career.

If classic metal albums are measured by their influence, I doubt there are few, from the 80s onward, that could compare to Lightning to the Nations. As a certain polemic Danish-American drummer once proclaimed, while introducing the remnants of this band to a new audience: “They're the fucking reason Metallica exists, it's that simple. If it wasn't for them, we'd all be doing something else”. That does the trick. The story of Metallica's love for the NWOBHM and Diamond Head in particular, is well documented. They've covered some tracks of this album several times, even live with other thrash metal legends. Diamond Head directly influenced the creation of thrash metal and Metallica (and therefore, subsequently, also Megadeth), themselves one of the most influential metal bands of all time. That alone warrants a tremendous, legendary status by itself. The reason of that influence becomes crystal clear while listening to some of compositions here.

Describing the sound of Lightning to the Nations to newbies could be accomplished by comparing this great metal masterpiece to a photograph, or more precisely, a photogram, of the exact instant when the 70s and the 80s collided. On one hand, Diamond Head provided the world with some of the strongest traits of the classic hard rock; a youthful but potent, charismatic and vocally seductive frontman in Sean Harris, with a good range and great attitude. Also, an axe-grinder with all the technical chops of the time and the creativity to build upon his influences, resulting in himself becoming an influence for the coming generations, and a rhythmic section that, while might sound dated for our current times, was rock solid and everything the vocals and guitars lines needed to shine. On the other hand, the expanded aggression of the Sabbath/Priest influenced riffs and the, literally, more evil imagery, sliced forth to lead the charge of 80s metal world domination.

Brian Tatler became a METAL GOD here, and his work will forever resonate thanks to the domino-effect his seminal and stellar guitar playing set forth as his compositions were put to tape. The combination of his six-stringed mastery with Harris' energy and swagger was almost virtually unmatched for a NWOBHM debut, barring Iron Maiden, but I'll take Lightning to the Nations over the Maiden debut due to the fact that there are two colossal, in every sense of the way, tracks here than manage to overshadow even “Phantom of the Opera” itself. Side A closer, “Sucking My Love”, and the iconic “Am I Evil?” opening side B, have a set of transcendental riffs that easily obliterate most things ever released under the NWOBHM tag. When you compose such delicious, headbang-inducing rhythmic units, you should exploit them like there's no tomorrow, and that's precisely what the band did. At nine and seven minutes long, there's just not a darn second wasted. Though not the only neck-pulverizing tunes here, those two towers of pure metal awesomeness constitute the core of this record, the next evolutionary step of the beast that arose from the embryonic sac of “Symptom of the Universe” or “Tyrant”.

While the foreboding, dark intro to “Am I Evil?”, a motif from Gustav Holst's "Mars, the Bringer of War" had already been used in rock music, among others, as heard in fellow Brit heavy psych band Andromeda's “Return to Sanity”, from their homonymous 1969 debut, Diamond Head made the most epic and spooky use of it. The added Purple-esque organs on “The Prince” also serve to increment the dark mystique of the album, and that song in particular, another of its highlights. But in reality, there are no fillers here, the upfront rockers “Lightning to the Nations”, “It's Electric” and “Sweet and Innocent”, are COVID-19-catchy, fierce, sexy and… well, more than sweet. Closer “Helpless”, almost reaching the seven-minute mark itself, successfully combines the long-winded approach with the dynamic, fast-hitter aesthetics of the shorter tunes, with some proggy stop-and-go sections thrown in. Diamond Head would try to explore their proggier side for their ensuing releases, a stylistic mistake that nonetheless just incremented the uniqueness of their incredible debut.

I'd probably kill to get the original Lightning to the Nations vinyl press, but have to conform myself with an expanded CD version that features a collection of b-sides and singles, most of which are decent and cute, but definitely lack the metalness of the original seven songs, with the exception of “Streets of Gold”, that has a cool Killing Machine vibe. The last couple of tracks from the Diamond Lights EP are also enjoyable. The line “only time will tell if I make it myself someday” from “Helpless” might still provoke some discussion when referring to the careers of the musicians involved in the creation of this classic, but there's no denying that Lightning to the Nations remains and will forever be a heavy metal top-tier highlight, a time-defying, decade-bridging marvel that will continue to gain adepts and cultists for as long as metalheads exist.